October 16, 2012 5:53 pm

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Booth Theatre, New York

This is a fine Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s play, although it lacks the fun of a fair fight
From left, Carrie Coon, Tracy Letts, Amy Morton and Madison Dirks in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'©Michael Brosilow

From left, Carrie Coon, Tracy Letts, Amy Morton and Madison Dirks in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'

Critics have been going into overdrive to find ways of praising the new Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s 1962 play, as if their adjectives needed to match the volume of the work’s quartet of characters. There is no question that this production, first seen at Steppenwolf in Chicago and directed by Pam MacKinnon, offers a fine introduction to the three-act illustration of marital discord. The show provides, as George describes the boozy through-the-night story at evening’s end, “a real good time, all things considered”.

For some of us more experienced Woolf hounds, however, the joys may feel more muted. I confess that I cannot fully erase from my brain the original-cast recording with Uta Hagen as Martha, George’s raucous wife and daughter of the president of the New England college where he teaches history. Nor will the blowsy braying of Elizabeth Taylor in the 1966 movie adaptation ever disappear from my memory.

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As I listened to the new Broadway cast, though – which includes Tracy Letts as George, Madison Dirks as the young biology professor Nick, and a terrific Carrie Coon as his wife, Honey – I missed not the echoes of past interpreters but the fun of a fair fight. Letts so dominates the proceedings that, were this a prize fight, it would have been over, by knock-out, in the opening act.

Greying, bespectacled and wrapped in a cardigan, Letts (known primarily as the author of August: Osage County) lets loose spectacularly. By contrast, Amy Morton as Martha simply does not match his ability to turn a phrase. I understand but do not accept the argument that her approach suggests stealth of another order. Often it is the quieter partner in a marriage who is the more potent – potent being the apposite term, given how Martha denigrates Nick when, sodden, he fails to please her fully.

However, after the first act, which I enjoyed hugely, I found myself staring at the stacks of books littering the stage of the old-New-England-house set, trying to detect their titles. And as George and Martha played their various games of Get the Guests and Hump the Hostess, I conducted my own pastime: I counted the number of cocktails served. I stopped counting at 13, the production’s ability to engage me emotionally having dwindled.

3 stars

www.virginiawoolfbroadway.com

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